Iran Reports Test of Craft Able to Carry a Satellite - William J. BroadIran test-fired a new rocket capable of carrying a satellite into orbit, the Iranian state news media reported Sunday. Western experts said the launching represented a potentially significant if much-delayed step in Iran's efforts to join the international space club.
The report comes amid growing Western nervousness about Iran's nuclear program and concerns that it could one day use its missile expertise to threaten enemies with annihilation by means of atomic warheads. "The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions," a White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said Sunday.
Rocket scientists agree that the same technology that puts satellites into orbit can deliver warheads. Iranian officials also point to the use of satellites by the U.S. to monitor Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar abilities for their security. (New York Times)
See also The Global Range of Iran's Ballistic Missile Program - Uzi RubinAnyone with a satellite launch vehicle can drop a bomb anywhere in the world. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
On Anniversary of Lebanon War Truce, Israelis Believe Another War with Hizbullah Is Inevitable - Robert BergerOn the second anniversary of the truce ending the Lebanon War between Israel and Hizbullah, many Israelis believe another war with the Islamic group is inevitable. "The war set the stage for a more comprehensive Middle East conflict," said Israeli analyst Michael Oren.
"It set into motion a dynamic in the Arab world, where much of the Arab street believes that Hizbullah won that war, and there is tremendous expectation on Hizbullah to continue the struggle." In 2006, Oren said, "We destroyed all of Hizbullah's infrastructure, much of its civilian headquarters, we killed about a quarter of their fighters, that is a prohibitive number of casualties for any modern fighting force, and yet perception is everything in the Middle East and the perception was, in the Arab world at least, that Israel was bested in that conflict."
Hizbullah fired 4,000 rockets into Israel during the 34-day conflict. With a bristling new arsenal of rockets, Oren believes a Hizbullah attack on Israel is just a matter of time. (VOA News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Israel Approves Release of 200 Palestinian Prisoners - Roni SoferThe Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved the release of some 200 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The Prime Minister's Office said, "This is a gesture and a trust-building move aimed at bolstering the moderates in the Palestinian Authority and the peace process."
Among the prisoners who are slated to be released are two Palestinians "with blood on their hands." One murdered Israelis and the other sent murderers. (Ynet News)
See also Victory Parade for Released Palestinian Prisoners - Avi IssacharoffSenior Fatah and PA figures will meet the released prisoners near the entrance to Ramallah and lead them on a victory parade through the streets to the Muqata, where they will pay their respects at Yasser Arafat's grave before listening to speeches that will be broadcast by Al Jazeera. (Ha'aretz)
See also Prisoner Release Unlikely to Help Fatah - Yaakov LappinThe government's decision to release some 200 security prisoners - mainly from Fatah - was unlikely to help that group, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari, a senior research scholar with the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said on Sunday. Harari, who was a senior adviser on Palestinian affairs to the Defense Ministry for 20 years, said Fatah was in an extremely vulnerable state, and that the proposed prisoner release would likely be "forgotten after two days." (Jerusalem Post)
Israel Calls on UNIFIL to Report Smuggling - Yitzhak BenhorinAmbassador Dan Carmon, acting head of Israel's UN delegation, met on Friday with Claudio Graziano, head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and told him that Israel is concerned about Hizbullah's violations of UN Resolution 1701 and the group's increasing power.
Carmon said Hizbullah's rearmament and the transferring of weapons from Iran and Syria to Lebanon should be mentioned in UNIFIL's reports to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Graziano claimed Thursday that Israel is the main culprit in violations of the UN resolution for its intelligence-gathering overflights of Lebanon. (Ynet News)
Despite Truce, Palestinian Rockets Strike Israel - Shmulik HadadPalestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket Sunday afternoon that landed in Israel. Another rocket had landed on Friday afternoon. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
Iranian Controversy over Cult of the Imam - Najmeh BozorgmehrWhen President Ahmadinejad announced on Sunday the launch of a rocket built to carry an Iranian satellite into space, he did so in the name of the last true Shia imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi. The launch coincided with the end of festivities in Iran to mark the birthday of the imam, who is believed to have gone into hiding in the year 941 and will return to bring peace and justice to the world.
But this year there are claims that the imam is being exploited for commercial and political purposes. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, on Sunday called those who had "opened a business" and claimed to have been connected to the imam "liars." Former president Rafsanjani said the current "fake" obsession with the imam had "misled millions of people."
Ahmadinejad rarely starts a speech without first praying for God to hasten the imam's second coming. The president, who has no clerical background, makes frequent reference to the imam as a way of displaying his piety. But many clerics and politicians believe the government encourages superstition among the masses to win votes and deflect attention away from day-to-day problems such as inflation, currently at 26 percent. (Financial Times-UK)
Dear Condoleezza Rice: Save Darfur - David SuissaLast Saturday, after services at Beth Jacob Congregation in Los Angeles, a young black man named Adam Akabar got up to speak. He was a Muslim refugee from Darfur, and he came to tell us his story and ask for our help.
For the past year, he has been traveling the U.S. with his photos and personal accounts to expose the ongoing nightmare happening to his people. Ms. Rice, I don't understand how you could go to the Middle East 21 times over the past few years, and agonize for weeks on end on the Israel-Palestinian conflict over things like roadblocks, building permits and border crossings, and, while millions of Darfurians are going through a historical genocide, make only one short, ineffective trip in four years to that part of the world.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that Jews don't appreciate your 21 trips to the Middle East. It's just that there are other areas, like Darfur in Africa, where millions of people are in clear and present danger, and they also need your immediate and undivided attention. (Jewish Journal of Los Angles)
Syria Hid Nuclear Program - Ephraim AsculaiThe photographic evidence of the existence of a nuclear reactor under construction at Syria's bombed Al-Kibar site was overwhelming: pictures of the reactor under construction, with great similarities to a North Korean plutonium production reactor, and its later camouflage by the construction of a surrounding building that completely enclosed the structure; the intake of water from the Euphrates River and the outlet of returning water from the building back into the downstream of the river, which indicated the existence of a strong energy source at the site.
The most damning piece of evidence probably is the way the Syrians razed the site, poured concrete over it and claimed that it was some sort of a military site and not a nuclear reactor. This should have been enough for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to indict Syria for its violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But given the attitude of the present director general of the IAEA, it is doubtful that this will happen. The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Jerusalem Post)
Russia and the Middle East - Walter Laqueur (Middle East Strategy at Harvard)
As Russia returns to a position of strength, a main aim will be to weaken America's position in the Middle East since the belief that America is Russia's worst and most dangerous enemy is quite common.
Moscow has threatened to supply greater help to Iran and Syria, which would certainly annoy America. But Russia does not want to do this at the price of creating political and military problems for itself in the years to come.
The attack on South Ossetia provided Russia with a unique opportunity; it was motivated by a militant Georgian nationalism which failed to understand that small and weak countries, unlike big and powerful ones, are not in a position to keep separatist regions indefinitely under their control.
Such opportunities will not frequently return, and other opportunities will have to be created by the Kremlin - probably by exploiting existing conflicts such as those in the Middle East.